Elon celebrates achievements of first-generation students

The National First-Generation College Celebration was held on Nov. 8 at LaRose Student Commons with several events to honor Elon's first-generation students.

Proud members of the Elon community gathered outside of LaRose Student Commons on Monday for the National First-Generation College Celebration as the university hosted several events to honor students who are the first in their families to go to college.

“The main purpose is to celebrate and raise awareness of the first-generation identity,” said Oscar Miranda ‘17. “It’s a big accomplishment and we want students to know that we recognize that and that we’re here to support them along the way.”

The celebration event was organized by Miranda in his role as the assistant director of the First Generation Support Services within the Center for Access and Success and Aliana Harrison, associate director of residence life for residential education and community development.

“We had a conversation around what is it that students want to see this year. Given the timeline that we were working with, they said that we really want to get to connect with other first-gen students,” Miranda said.

Nov. 8 was selected as the date for the annual National First-Generation College Celebration to honor the anniversary of the signing of the Higher Education Act of 1965. Since 2017, the Council for Opportunity in Education (COE) and the NASPA (National Association of Student Personnel Administrations) Center for First-generation Student Success launched the inaugural First-Generation College Celebration.

Since the establishment of the annual celebration, hundreds of college campuses across the nation recognize their first-generation students in different ways. Along with Monday night’s celebration at LaRose Student Commons, the university shared information about first-generation students and the university’s resources to support them on Monday afternoon in Moseley Center.

Monday night’s celebration was open to all of the Elon community with food, games and prizes. Following the event was an hour-long reception for all first-generation faculty, staff and students, as well as allies to share their experience as first-generation college students.

Eva Pierce ’23, a vocal performance major with a minor in German studies, said that she’s been involved with First Gen at Elon and is even a member of the steering committee for some programs currently in the works.

“When I first got here, it was very overwhelming especially learning how to navigate social and financial experiences because not everybody understands,” Pierce said. “Once I found the First Gen program, it became a lot easier because I found a community of people who did understand.”

Pierce also serves as one of the inaugural mentors to first-generation students. She checks in with her mentee throughout the semester and assists them on their journey as a first-year, first-gen student. Drawing upon her own experiences during her first year at Elon, she wants to be a source of knowledge and guidance for the first-generation students after her.

“I didn’t have that resource when I came in and I want to be a part of the change that makes it easier for the students that come after me,” she said.

Majoring in public health, Cole Carney ’24 said he appreciates the efforts Elon is making to support him and all other first-generation students. “Just from my orientation during my first year, I remember them making a point of celebrating first-generation students and the privilege that it is to be able to study at a university like Elon,” Carney said. “I think they do a good job at making first-generation students feel celebrated.”

Miranda returned to Elon in 2019 to help establish of the First-Generation Initiative. Events such as the First-Generation College Celebration help spread awareness of various aspects of the work.

“We’re still in the building phase of the initiative, and for students to be able to have an opportunity to be able to connect with one another,” he said.

Elon is built on the importance of relationships and human interaction, Miranda said, citing President Emeritus Leo Lambert and Assistant Provost Peter Felten’s joint book “Relationship-Rich Education: How Human Connections Drive Success in College.” Being an alum and a first-generation student, he said the Elon community was instrumental in his success as a student. Now in his role with student support services, he wants to show current first-generation students the same support he was shown.

“It’s not easy navigating college, especially when neither of your parents attended college before,” Miranda said. “We want students to know that they’re not here by mistake, that they’re supposed to be here and that we’re here to support them.”